Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Husband Does the Laundry

I've been thinking about gender roles recently.  Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of being at a coming-of-age ritual for the granddaughter of a friend (my, the time!  I'd been at her mother's coming-of-age, too).  I also had a conversation with one of my daughters-in-law in which issues about motherhood came up.  The role that gender plays in parenting was only one aspect of our discussion, but it's a big one.  I know my generation of boomers wanted big changes in lots of areas of our lives, and I know many things are different, but to what degree, and how?  We're all feminists, right?  What can the young woman we blessed this weekend expect, as a woman?

Barry and I were in a gender group for about 10 years (it ended maybe 10 years ago) in which we explored through ritual and discussion any issues concerning gender that people wanted to pursue.  We joke now that we didn't know any more when the group ended than we did when it started.  What I did learn had little to do with gender, but rather with group dynamics.  (One thing was that groups constellate everyone's family of origin issues.  Another was that people have a hard time being direct and clear about their needs and desires.  A number of people left the group saying that they weren't getting what they wanted.  From my vantage point, they never asked or explained what they wanted.  Groups!  Very challenging!)  Gender issues are mysterious and run deep.

I have to admit that Barry and I fall into pretty stereotypical roles, for the most part.  I cook most of our dinners.  That's okay with me.  My cooking's a lot better, and now that I'm retired I'm enjoying cooking again.  Plus, we have a long-term house rule that the cook doesn't do the dishes.  Works for me!  Barry takes out the garbage, almost all of the time.  I do the housecleaning (though I wouldn't mind a little more help in this department - hint, hint).  He does repairs (he's good at it and learned to use tools as a kid; not me).  BUT... he does the laundry.  It wasn't always that way.  I remember a time when my Harvard-educated husband said he couldn't wash clothes because he didn't know how the washing machine worked.  Well, he does now.  When I was working many more hours than he was, and his work was all at home, he got the laundry chore.  It's something, I guess.

And you know, he folds the laundry much better than I do.

I hope things have changed more than superficially for the next generation.

I'm reminded of a poem I wrote a few months ago about how I learned to be a woman.  I guess the moral is that it's very difficult getting beyond our programming.  Here's the poem:

My Mama Told Me

My mama told me
            to be smart, to shine,
            just not more than boys.
My mama told me
            to pick up my messes
            and keep a clean house.
My mama told me
            to be on time,
            or punish myself if I can’t be.
My mama told me
            to help others
            and put my own needs last.
My mama told me
            to hold back my emotions
            and walk quietly.
My mama told me
            she would wash my mouth out with soap
            if I spoke the truth in vivid terms.
My mama told me
            to succeed,
            but not too much.
My mama told me
            to be a good girl,
            but to stick up for what is right.
My mama told me
            to choose my brain over my body,
            and so I left dancing behind.

My mama never told me
            that playing it safe
            meant not getting the gold.
My mama never told me
            how to be a mother,
            only that I had to be one.
My mama never told me
            how to give appropriately,
            neither too much nor too little.
My mama never told me
            there were consequences
            for holding back emotions.
My mama never told me
            that sarcastic comments
            would hurt me as well as others.
My mama never told me
            that there was value
            in trying to reach the stars.
My mama never told me
            why I should be afraid,
            only that I should be.
My mama never told me
            to love animals or
            my own animal body.
My mama never told me
            not to fear darkness,
            that it would hold me and nurture me.

I send blessings to my mama.
She did the best that she could.

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